She doesn’t know why. But ever since Deanna Lentini was five years old, she has felt compelled to help those living on the streets. As a young child, she’d ask her dad for coins to give to homeless people. By the time she was in high school, her allowance jingled in her pockets, ready to be handed to panhandlers. At 15, she started volunteering at a shelter. “There’s a passion in my bones that has always tugged at me to help the homeless,” says Lentini, now a 23-year-old U of T student.
In 2016, she founded Fix the 6ix, which has amassed more than $4,000 worth of donated gift cards that have bought food, clothing and other necessities for the homeless. Fix the 6ix volunteers have also collected about 19,000 Raptor ticket stubs. (At a winning home game, where the Raptors score more than 100 points, each ticket holder is entitled to a free slice of pizza.) Those ticket stubs can be redeemed at Pizza Pizza.
To establish her volunteer-run organization – with its no-cost donation model – Lentini postponed starting her master’s. During the past school year, she worked full time but devoted her evenings and weekends to Fix the 6ix. By December, she had hit the wall. “I was completely exhausted,” she says. But she’d get right back at it after reading the yellow sticky-note on her desk: “People have it harder than you. You need to do this for them.”
Starting her master’s in physical therapy in September hasn’t diminished her drive. Between classes, writing essays and studying, she painstakingly records the amount on each donated gift card.
Soft-spoken, she is also learning how to speak up for the homeless. Recently, Lentini was on a subway car where a woman was asking for money. When the woman got off, another passenger blurted out, “She has a chauffeur waiting for her at Eglinton. They’re all liars.”
Summoning her courage, Lentini confronted the man, saying, “Imagine the dignity she had to give up to ask for help.” When Lentini got off the subway car, she was shaking. “These people need our help,” she says, citing a U of T study that found that panhandlers live in extreme poverty and their single largest expense is food.
Lentini has big plans for Fix the 6ix, including installing gift-card donation boxes in cafés so people can easily donate the cards they have lying around. But her grandest personal plan is to end homelessness in Toronto. “In order to create affordable housing, one day I’ll run for city council,” she promises.